What exactly does it mean for music to be “heavy?”
Is the heaviest album the one featuring the lowest tuning? The greatest possible number of guitar strings? The fastest music, or the most detailed, or even the most emotionally draining? Has “heaviest” simply become synonymous with “best?”
Frankly, I don’t know—perhaps all of the above, perhaps none. But what I do know is that Hunted is the heaviest album I’ve heard all year. Not that it’s a particularly loud album per se; in fact, some moments are quiet, even calm. But even in its most restrained moments, Hunted is thoroughly crushing and relentlessly effective; it’s the rare album that lodges itself in both the head and the gut.
Khemmis first caught my attention with last year’s Absolution, a record that overcame occasionally meandering songwriting through strong hooks and compelling, NWOBHM-inspired guitar work. Doom metal isn’t generally my genre of choice, but Khemmis left a strong enough impression for me to actively seek out their follow-up release. Although dropping Hunted less than 2 years later struck me as a questionable decision, the album’s pristine quality suggests that the quick turnaround was much more likely thanks to an abundance of material and creativity than a rushed writing process.
Despite the relatively wide gap in quality between the two, Hunted differs from Absolution in only a handful of areas; however, those exact areas are the ones in which Absolution was lacking. Gone is the occasional sense of aimlessness, replaced with a tight package of 5 rock-solid doom metal tracks. From the catchy, almost poppish chorus of “Candlelight” to the sprawling compositions of the title track, just about every moment belongs and connects, a welcome change in what has become the year of overwrought, overlong records. In spite of the trimmed runtime, though, nothing that made Khemmis’ music engaging or unique to begin with has been lost; the opening notes of “Above the Water” mark the return of Maiden-tinged riffs, and Phil Pendergast’s vocal performance trumps even his stellar showing on Absolution. For all intents and purposes, this is the album that I hoped Khemmis would release.
For a doom metal record, Hunted is surprisingly diverse, too, dabbling in all sorts of different styles of heavy music. The pounding rock’n’roll riff that opens “Three Gates” is easily one of my favorite moments, but the excellent harsh vocals that follow are almost as satisfying. And, though “Candlelight’s” sludgy death metal-inspired section does overstay its welcome, I’ve gotta give the band credit for having the guts to attempt it. With no disrespect to the first four stellar songs, though, the titular closing track immediately distinguishes itself as Hunted’s crown jewel, a flawless behemoth that spans more than 13 minutes and wastes none of them. It’s crushing, passionate, and serves as the defining moment of this young band’s stellar career.
By any manner in which one might choose to define the word, Hunted is heavy. There’s something about this album and this band that connects and knocks the wind out of me in a way that not a whole lot of doom metal ever has, and it’s exactly that feeling that keeps me coming back. With Hunted, Khemmis have sprinted ahead of their contemporaries, crafting a relentlessly enjoyable record while never sacrificing a lick of emotional or instrumental gravity.